Barbara Holland’s Wasn’t the Grass Greener?

Author Barbara Holland’s books are frequently referenced here at The Hip Flask. Most importantly, her words were the inspiration for this blog’s inception, which builds in no small part on her philosophy on the importance of drinking and lamenting. Today, I recommend another book by Holland titled, Wasn’t the Grass Greener? Thirty-Three Reasons Why Life Isn’t as Good as It Used to Be.

This book (the latest entry to my Recommended Reading page) takes the form of a list: 33 people, activities, places, and home furnishings that represent a by-gone and sorely missed period of American history. Among these, and most importantly, are those items and ideas concerning drink, which thanks to Ms. Holland’s love of the bottle, are plentiful.

Most notably her book addresses the absence of taverns and liquor cabinets, which are each increasingly difficult to locate. Holland’s initial thoughts on taverns – in her sharp-witted prose – begin with Andy Capp:

“In Andy’s world there are only three scene changes—his pub, his living room, and the street in between. Sometimes he tries to entice a lass at the bar. Sometimes he brings his wife, to swap acid comments with the bartender. Sometime she awaits him at home, in curlers, with a rolling pin. The story line has a mythic simplicity, and endlessly repeated escapes to conviviality and returns to domesticity.”

Andy’s British attitude on booze, passing only between home and tavern, encapsulates perfectly Holland’s desire for America, the relationship a serious drinker should have with his favorite pub, tavern, or bar. And once you arrive at your favored location – if such a place still exists – Holland believes (as I’ve previously argued) that the television is largely responsible for ruining a quiet drink, alone or with friends.

“Television is noisy. It makes casual conversation an effort and confiding in bartenders too loud to be confidential. Even with the sound turned off, television is distracting. Images squirm around on the screen. A row of people at the bar, confronted by television, tend to ignore each other and stare at the set. The whole purpose of the tavern fades: why be here at all?”

If you choose or must drink at home, a well-stocked liquor cabinet is therefore necessary. Yet even this is becoming a vestige of another time, one that doesn’t center on fitness, efficiency, or productivity. A liquor cabinet was once a symbol of hospitality, where conversations began and acquaintances became friends. And it’s not only liquor cabinets that have disappeared in today’s modern houses, but pianos, desks, radiators and porches, even playing cards and other “old things” – whose sole purpose centered on relaxation, socialization, and deliberation.

Although I enjoyed Holland’s extensive reflections on all things alcohol, my favorite passage from this book was found in the chapter titled “Cities,” which provoked a chuckle when considering my family’s recent addition: “New York was where we wanted to live when we were finally grown up, and drink martinis and stay out past bedtime, not where we wanted to take the toddlers for a weekend of family values.” The God’s honest truth to be sure.

~~~~~~~~~~

Please visit The Hip Flask’s Recommended Reading page for other books on drinking culture I’ve enjoyed.

Published in: on October 18, 2012 at 11:48 pm  Comments Off on Barbara Holland’s Wasn’t the Grass Greener?  
Tags: , , ,

Lois Long: Drinking Pioneer

“I shall write about drinking, because it is high time somebody approached this subject in a specific, constructive way.”

This sentence, written roughly 90 years ago, holds special meaning.  These days, there’s not an abundance of what I consider to be specific, constructive writing on the matter of drink.

When I began this blog a few years ago, I wanted to add a little civility to the subject, perhaps some knowledge and context to this pastime called drinking.  So I put my life’s drinking experiences to paper, proffering stories, research, and a touch of humor to a topic often put down as unnecessary, irresponsible, or just downright wasteful.

My modest goals were, unbeknownst to me at the time, somewhat similar to those of Lois Long, a little-known name outside serious literary or Jazz Age American historical circles.  For it was Ms. Long who, during the Dark Ages of American drinking culture – Prohibition – pseudonymously brought the world of drinking to the eyes of her readers in the pages of a then start-up magazine titled The New Yorker.

But it wasn’t simply her writing for which she gained notoriety, it was her lifestyle: hard drinking and hard partying at the hottest clubs and speakeasies 1920s New York City offered.  Long prowled the city’s nightlife looking for a good time; in her words: “Here I go plodding around, in my conscientious, girlish way, to all kinds of places at all hours of the night with escorts only reasonably adept at the art of bar-room fighting, and nothing ever happens to me…”

Although occasionally disappointed at the lack of fisticuffs, Ms. Long quickly developed an epic ability to balance publication requirements with her apparent non-stop boozing.  As British historian Joshua Zeitz writes,* “She wasn’t above sauntering into work at three or four in the morning…dressed to the nines, and flushed from hours of heavy drinking… In hot weather, she’d casually strip down to her slip and clack away at her typewriter.”

Granted, when compared to Ms. Long, I can’t hold a candle to her astounding ability to drink all night and then, without sleep, stumble into the office to bang out an article for publication.  Sure, I pulled my fair share of all-nighters studying and writing in undergrad, but with none of her frequency and vigor, and certainly not after so many hours of cigarettes and gin.

Yet it wasn’t only Long’s production ability that stood legendary in those first years of the Twenties: her idea of what it meant to “holds one’s liquor” was impressive in its own right. “‘If you could make it to the ladies’ room before throwing up,’ she chortled, you were ‘thought to be good at holding your liquor…. It was customary to give two dollars to the cab driver if you threw up in his cab.'”

Lois Long was a modern, professional, hard-partying woman long before those terms found their way into modern lexicon and practice.  She was a woman with sharp prose and boundless energy, even before her attractiveness; someone who’d make a great drinking companion today.  However, her thoughts on Prohibition prove most entertaining, proving that blaming “kids these days” is not a recent invention:

“Prohibition would have never been a necessity, Lipstick [Long’s pseudonym] claimed, had young people ‘learned to drink with aplomb’ rather than excessive debauchery.  ‘The answer,’ she proposed, ‘lies in the nursery and in the classroom… We will teach the young to drink.  There would not be so many embarrassing incidents of young men falling asleep under the nearest potted palm or playing ping-pong with Ming china if little Johnny at the age of six, had been kept in regularly at recess to make up his work because he had failed to manage his pint in Scotch class…'”

~~~~~~~~~~

*All quotations from Professor Joshua Zeitz’s book Flapper: A Madcap Story of Sex, Style, Celebrity, and the Women Who Made America Modern. A whirlwind glimpse into the early lives of Zelda Fitzgerald and Coco Chanel, as well as the infancy of a little town called Hollywood.

Published in: on October 16, 2012 at 2:51 pm  Comments (1)  
Tags: , , , ,

Bananaweiz​en

What’s to say about the often overlooked beer cocktail after the dog days of summer’s end?  Admittedly, not much.  Unless you’re discussing a shandy during the hottest days of the year, most drinkers are probably uninterested or more disappointingly, unadventurous.

Yet you, dear reader, are neither: you are always looking for new drinking experiences, a novel cocktail or brew to educate and delight your company and companions, one that demonstrates your knowledge of the world of drinking to friends and colleagues alike; because you pride yourself on your drinking wisdom, and rightfully so.

Let us consider then a beer cocktail from Germany, aptly named the Bananaweizen.  Its ingredients are simple: any hefeweizen or hefeweizen-style wheat beer and a banana juice, also called banana nectar.  Mix in a soda/pint glass, and there you have it.  Simple enough, no?

Seeking to stay true to heritage, I bought a bottle of Hacker-Pschorr Hefe Weisse and a bottle of Paulaner Hefe Weizen to use as the cocktail’s base.  And I was able to find a can of Goya Banana Nectar in the “international” aisle of a local grocery.  (If that doesn’t work, try the juice/soda aisle – I’ve found it there, too.)

When it comes to proportions of bananaweizen components I tried both a 4-1 and 5-1 beer to juice ratio mix and much preferred the 4-1: if you really enjoy overpoweringly sweet drinks – I’m thinking here of Riesling-level sweetness, another fine German product – you’ll likely want to avoid the 5-1 ratio.

Unless you’re very secure in your masculinity or are willing to endure some moderate mockery from friends, I’d stick to enjoying this cocktail before lunchtime.  Consider it a clever way to enjoy a beer for breakfast.  Otherwise, you’re putting your man card at risk of revocation.

Published in: on October 11, 2012 at 3:03 pm  Comments (3)  
Tags: , , , ,

Pumpkin Beer 2012

In recent years September and October signaled the introduction of autumnal beers, most notably Oktoberfest lagers.  Märzen-style brews are my absolute favorite seasonal beer, so I welcome the near-endless variety: from traditional German breweries to mainstream American brewers and smaller domestic craft breweries, you can’t swing a dead cat these days without knocking over a display of Oktoberfest bottles.

Yet this fall feels a bit different. Although the ubiquity of Oktoberfest varieties remains, there’s now a strong rival to contend with:  pumpkin ales.  They’re everywhere this year.

A few years ago you were lucky to find some sort of pumpkin ale in a specialty grocery or on tap at a local microbrewery.  Yet alongside the growth in Oktoberfest sales came the proliferation of pumpkin brews, so much so that the two now introduce the fall season hand in hand.

And it’s not just a couple of new varieties; now any brewery worth discussing at minimum brews an Oktoberfest, a pumpkin beer, and more often than not, some other autumn/Halloween/fruit or nut-inspired beer.

Not that any of this is a bad thing, certainly not.  I write to consider only the mass production American microbrews have created for us, the snooty beer drinkers of the world, as well as the pace with which this explosion in varieties occurred.  So to help you separate what’s good from what’s not, here are some of my favorites this year.

– Boxcar Pumpkin Porter, by Starr Hill Brewing

– Imperial Pumpkin Ale, by Weyerbacher Brewing Company

– Pumpkinhead (Maine-made Ale), by Shipyard Brewing Company

– Post Road Pumpkin Ale, by the Brooklyn Brewery

– Punk’n Harvest Pumpkin Ale, by Uinta Brewing Company

– Pumpkin Ale, by Smuttynose Brewing Company

If none of these ring your bell, don’t fret: there will likely be a few dozen more to choose from next year.

Published in: on October 9, 2012 at 10:43 am  Comments (1)  
Tags: , , ,

Hemingway as Mad Man

Behold, the holy intersection of Don Draper, Ernest Hemingway, and drinking.  Or, more specifically, Hemingway, mid-Twentieth Century advertising, and Ballantine ale.  Imagine, how would the exchange have gone between Hemingway, the epic man of letters, and Draper, wizard of Madison Avenue?

Unfortunately for us, this can only be fiction.  Yet Ballantine beer, wisely using the writer’s reputation to sell its product, tapped Papa himself to pen a few words on their brew.  And what better advertisement than the words of an acclaimed novelist and drinker?

The print advertisement (pictured above, published around 1951) prominently features Hemingway himself, but it’s the ad’s peripheral – yet no less prominent details – that stand out to me: Hemingway’s most prominent novel to date, For Whom the Bell Tolls; the letterhead on which the author writes, marking his letter from Finca Vigía, his Cuban villa at San Francisco de Paula; and the ad’s challenge to its readers – “HOW WOULD YOU put a glass of Ballantine Ale into words?”

However, details aside, its Hemingway’s prose that ultimately sells the product.  In its entirety:

Bob Benchley first introduced me to Ballantine Ale. It has a been good companion ever since.

You have to work hard to deserve to drink it. But I would rather have a bottle of Ballantine Ale than any other drink after fighting a really big fish. When something has been taken out of you by strenuous exercise Ballantine puts it back in.

We keep it iced in the bait box with chunks of ice packed around it. And you ought to taste it on a hot day when you have worked a big marlin fast because there were sharks after him.

You are tired all the way through. The fish is landed untouched by sharks and you have a bottle of Ballantine cold in your hand and drink it cool, light, and full-bodied, so it tastes good long after you have swallowed it. That’s the test of an ale with me: whether it tastes as good afterwards as when it’s going down.  Ballantine does.

Now if that won’t sell your brew, nothing will.

Published in: on October 2, 2012 at 10:57 pm  Comments Off on Hemingway as Mad Man  
Tags: , , ,